My sister once claimed that my mother, Lynda, and my aunt, Jean, were both frozen in her mind at the ages of 30 and 35 respectively. It’s been many years since they were those ages, and they are both gone now, but I think that insistence in my sister’s mind is a perfect explanation of the energy these two stirred up when they got together. Through weddings, babies and divorces they stayed close. They stayed close long after they were no longer legally related.
It would be natural for you to assume that these two women were sisters themselves if you ever saw them together and witnessed how close they were. But they weren’t sisters. My aunt Jean was my father’s sister, but from the moment these two women met, they were best friends. That friendship was more powerful than blood ties
The story I grew up hearing was that when my parents were dating my father had to, for some reason I either never heard or never remembered, go pick his sister Jean up from somewhere. He decided to ask his then girlfriend, Lynda, to go with him so they could ride together and she could meet his sister. According to Mom, from the moment Jean got in the car they started talking and never quit for more than 60 years.
The two women had four children in 20 months between them. Their husbands were friends and the young families used to do a lot together. As young mothers with a passel of kids tend to do, they gave each other courage to tackle going out into the world with their young children by going out together.
One of the most outrageous stories centered around the time they took their four young children to the circus. I was not born yet, so I am not as clear on the details, but I believe that the circus was held in a tent. At some point during the excursion, a circus hippopotamus got loose. In the chaos that ensued, in the poor beast’s confused mind, these two young women with their passel of children became a perfect target. I don’t know if one of the children taunted the beast, or if it was the fact that they looked like an easy mark, but the six of them ended up being chased by the hippo. The laughter at this point of the story always became so raucous that all other details have been lost in my memory.
These two women loved all their children, but they especially adored their sons. They were suckers for what I refer to as a 12-year old boy’s sense of humor. There were many times when they should have been firmly reprimanding their sons, but instead were coughing and spluttering with the laughter they couldn’t quite suppress.
I was still quite young when the two families decided to go spend a summer day at a nearby lake. I don’t remember what we did while we were at the lake, but I distinctly remember everyone being hot, tired and dirty when it was time to drive home. The adults decided that we should all have dinner at a restaurant on the way home. I have no idea how nice the restaurant really was, but in my mind at the time, it was a nice, “grown-up” restaurant. The two families sat at a long table, the adults ordered drinks, and food was ordered. At some point when we were waiting for our food, my cousin David started doing a dead-on impression of an evangelical preacher who was on a local television station. The impression was loud, with lots of arm movements and shaking of his head. All four adults kept trying to “shush” David, but their attempts were not very effective given the fact that they practically doubled over with laughter at the accuracy of the impersonation. I don’t think we were asked to leave the restaurant, but I can almost guarantee we were asked to never return.
Not long after that event, divorce hit the family. First, my aunt Jean and her husband divorced. She remarried not long after that, but her family was not as taken with her second husband as they were her first. However, the two sisters-in-law remained close. A few years after that, my own parents divorced. Although Jean was my father’s sister, she and my mom remained close friends, even after my mom remarried. She also married a man no one was quite as fond of, but for the women the friendship stayed strong.
My mom spent her adult life living in one city while Jean traveled and moved around the country. Time and distance eventually made their friendship fade a little, but they were those friends who could go a long time without talking to each other, and then pick up the phone and carry on a conversation just like they had talked the day before. No matter how old they got, it was guaranteed that there would be giggling and raucous laughter whenever they talked.
They were smart, they were funny, and they grew to adulthood in an era when women were considered to be little more than overgrown children. There were times when they raged against the patriarchy, and there were times when they would follow the dictates of their male-dominated upbringing without even realizing they were doing it. Through it all, they kept their senses of humor.
I have frequently made the observation that there is no one smarter or funnier than a person who thinks you’re smart and funny. I think this was the glue that held the two women together through all those years. I will always wonder what they could have accomplished in their lives if they had been born in an era when society gave greater value to women and what they were capable of doing. I will never know, but damn, I am so glad they were both in my lives for as long as they were.